NCAA Tournament so far makes March feel a little less mad
This past weekend, the first of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, was nuts, but for an entirely different reason than usual. The lack of major upsets meant the second and third round of the tourney was like a Mounds candy bar. Some teams can make you feel like a nut. This year, very few actually did as there were only five major upsets in the round of 64.
With just one double-digit seed left alive in the Sweet Sixteen, the fewest since the 2009 tournament, this March could turn out to be downright sane.
Even the upsets over the weekend were relatively tame. Yes, a couple of five seeds won but West Virginia has given plenty of teams fits with its full-court pressure defense and considering Maryland struggled against many of the stoutest defensive teams in the Big 10 that was hardly a surprising win for the Mountaineers.
Utah took down a Georgetown team that, in hindsight, looks like it was gifted what should have been Wichita State’s number four seed in the South region.
Yes, those Shockers of WSU took down Kansas, but it didn’t feel like all that surprising of an upset. While the victory gave David a mighty win over Goliath, it shouldn’t have been too “shocking” given David clearly showed up with a game plan and invested 100 percent of its effort in the match-up.
The Shockers loaded Evan Wessel into their sling, a player clearly with something to prove, and proceeded to unleash a barrage of threes on the Goliaths of Kansas while the Jayhawks did little to retaliate.
Michigan State was a big winner as well and while the seeding would paint it as an upset for the Spartans, the team would also seem to have Virginia’s number after a second straight win over the Cavaliers to knock them out of the NCAA tournament.
The lesson here is that no team coached by Tom Izzo should ever be considered an underdog, nor should they be taken lightly, even as a seven seed.
Finally, there was North Carolina State eliminating the first number one seed with a 71-68 victory over Villanova. Upset? Maybe, but the Wolfpack boasted wins over Duke, Louisville and North Carolina going into the tournament.
Meanwhile, Villanova’s best win was either a 16-point win over Georgetown or an 18-point win over Providence, both at home, while the team also lost to a Seton Hall team that finished 6-12 in a weakened Big East and 16-15 overall.
Looking ahead, there is only one game in the Sweet 16 that will match up two teams with a seeding difference greater than four (UCLA vs. Gonzaga).
With the tournament playing out pretty much as expected so far, what could happen to add some insanity back into the proceedings? As the bard once wrote, let me count the ways.
Don’t be shocked if the Spartans are back in the Final Four once all is said and done this weekend.
Oklahoma is certainly a vulnerable three seed after barely escaping Albany (#14) and Dayton (#11) by a grand total of 15 points, and remember that meltdown in Ames less than a month ago?
If the Spartans get past the Sooners, they will just need to get past Louisville or NC State to get back to the Final Four. With three upperclassmen (Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Branden Dawson) leading the charge on top of a sturdy pair of hands at the helm, this Michigan State team could be poised to make one of its most surprising postseason runs through the rest of the month.
Considering the way the conference has been represented so far, maybe the most shocking outcome left would be the two remaining Big 12 teams playing for a National Championship.
West Virginia just handled a good Maryland squad, but they have the biggest hurdle to get over with a match-up against top overall seed Kentucky looming.
Could the Mountaineers defense pester the Wildcats enough to give WVU a chance at the biggest upset of the tournament so far? It’s possible. Anything’s possible in March, but Kentucky’s overall athleticism may very well render that a moot point as the team marches towards a championship that seems like its to lose.
Oklahoma has the smoother road, though the Sooners have taken the postseason motto of “survive and advance” to heart this March. Still, Big 12 Conference Player of the Year Buddy Hield is not one to be overlooked and he could still do some serious damage and keep this OU team playing deep into the tournament.
What’s crazier than an all-Big 12 National Championship? Well, what if the Wichita State Shockers break through to their first National Championship appearance with this team instead of the team that went undefeated through the regular season and earned a number one seed in last year’s tournament?
Getting past Notre Dame is not an absurd idea, especially with how dangerously the Irish have been living in its first two tournament games. Then, WSU would likely get a rematch with Kentucky.
That’s where it gets a little bit crazy, because if that’s how the Midwest Regional plays out, then it would be almost an exact role reversal of the third round match-up between the two teams a year ago in the same Midwest Region.
Kentucky went undefeated in the regular season this year and earned the number one seed, while the Shockers are one of the toughest seven seeds ever in the tournament and were identified as a threat in their bracket despite their lower seed (and, arguably, being underseeded).
It would be poetic justice if Wichita State ends up being the team to knock Kentucky out of the tournament, though it doesn’t make the prospect any less batty considering how the Wildcat juggernauts have rolled through the season so far. The Shockers would still have to go through a similarly dominant Wisconsin or Arizona team to get to the final as well.
Those are just a few of the crazy, circuitous routes the tournament could still take and we haven’t even talked about the potential of Gonzaga making its first Final Four appearance.
March Madness may have been relatively tame through the first few rounds, but there’s still an opportunity for all hell to break loose starting this Thursday. Here’s to hoping the nuttiness begins in earnest this weekend.